As we mentioned last week, if you're headed to the fair looking for a corny dog contest this year, you'd better be ready to find your own challengers and drop nine tickets for every dog. This time around, the only organized contest at the fair was Sunday afternoon's Jimmy John's "Makers vs. Eaters" contest, pitting three of the top names in Major League Eating against a trio of local meat jockeys in a five-minute contest on the main stage.
A sizable crowd stuck around at the foot of the stage to watch, taking refuge from the weekend crush of motorized mobility chairs and doublewide strollers. One bearded guy in the front of the crowd, who had to be some kind of plant, channeled Zach Galifianakis from the front row, fist-pumping, cheering and waving a Jimmy John's sandwich as the eaters were introduced.
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George Shea, the godfather of modern competitive eating, made the introductions in his trademark hyperbolic style, beginning with North Texas' own "Nasty" Nate Biller, who was competing in his second local contest in as many weeks. Next up, Pat Bertolleti, the mohawked chef from Chicago, who's ranked third in the world. Finally, dropping his voice to a low rumble, Shea introduced the reigning Nathan's hot dog eating champ, "the eater of the free world ... Joey 'Jaws' Chestnut, the greatest eater of all time."
As a promotional gimmick, the setup probably works even better than a standard contest -- riffing on the chain's "freaky fast" slogan, and reining in the gross-out potential in big events -- but for pure spectacle and excitement, it was a poor substitute for the raw drama of a full table in a sloppy, half-sick race to see who's hungriest for the win.
Jimmy John's and MLE have been putting on this contest for years, with different sets of eaters all around the country, riffing on how quickly the sandwich chain delivers and sticking the eaters with almost insurmountable odds. The only time the eaters have taken one of these races, in fact -- in a Denver contest two months back -- Bertoletti led the charge. Biller had a hometown crowd cheering him on yesterday, and having Chestnut out there gave the team the best chance they could ask for.
The five-minute contest began as soon as the workers had a sandwich sitting in front of each eater, and while Chestnut, Bertoletti and Biller raced to down their first couple subs, it wasn't long before they each had a pair of sandwiches wrapped up in front of them. By the time Shea shouted for the sandwich makers to stop, they'd made 23 sandwiches. With 45 seconds left to even out the one-sandwich head-start, the eaters still had seven sandwiches left to tackle; when time was called they'd combined to eat a total of 17.